Skip to Main Content

Pacific Lutheran University

Inquiry. Service. Leadership. Care.

*Anthropology: Ethnographies

What is an ethnography?

    An Ethnolography is:

    • A FIRST-HAND, descriptive written account of a particular culture or group, focusing on a particular population, place and time, and all with the goal of accurately describing that culture or ethnic group.
      • This first-hand account is produced through participant observation of the culture or group.

    participant observation: the anthropologist lives over a period of time with the culture being observed, participates in everyday activities, speaks the language of the culture, and observes life within the group in its everyday context. An ethnographer will live in the community, talk to his/her subjects extensively, and observe the environment. The ethnographer will then derive his or her own conclusions from his/her research, based on his/her knowledge and theoretical framework for the project, and produce a first-hand, written account of his/her observations and conclusions.
    • Can be long (book-length) or short (journal article or single book chapter), but they tend to be long.

    • An additional resource with short ethnographies: Handbook of North American Indians (HNAI)

    The Handbook of North American Indians (HNAI) is a multi-volume encyclopedia of the various peoples of the United States, northern Mexico and Canada. It features short works on aspects of Native American life and culture, including ethnographies, written by expert scholars and anthropologists. The HNAI is produced by the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Anthropology.

    HNAI is located in the reference collection on the library's first  floor at  ref. E77.H25

    NOTE: Not all entries in the HNAI are ethnographies. Some are short histories of a particular tribe, while others are descriptions of toolmaking, weaving, pottery and other skills. Read the entry carefully to determine if it is a true ethnography.

    An Ethnography is not: 

    • Produced second-hand from first-hand accounts.

    • Simple opinion or observation reports without an analytical component.  Examples of such reports include travel accounts, short newspaper or popular magazine articles, articles written for general readership like those in National Geographic, and letters to the editor.

    • A book or essay about proper ethnographic practice.

    Based on a website created by Olivia Olivares, Social Sciences Librarian, University of Arizona

    How Do I Find an Ethnography?

    In the library catalog, the subject headings most frequently used on ethnographic works are as follows:

    “Ethnology” subdivided by place is used for works that are general anthropological works on the peoples of a particular place.  Some examples:

    • Ethnology – Cyprus
    • Ethnology – Florida
    • Ethnology – Asia

    The most direct way is by searching for the name of the peoples:

    • Pashai (Afghanistan people)
    • Bira (African people)
    • Lahu (Asian people)
    • Kamu (Australian people)

    The indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere are set up with the name of the group followed by the word “Indians” or “Eskimos.” For example:

    • Haida Indians
    • Chol Indians
    • Mbya Indians
    • Nunamiut Eskimos

    However there are some exceptions, such as: Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas.

    There are also subject headings for nationalities, such as “Spaniards” and “Danes;” and for nationalities in America, such as “Greek Americans.” These are some of the most common terms used on ethnographic materials that deal with particular peoples or places.

    from What are the best ways to find ethnographies? (

    Online Video Database

    Doing Ethnographic Research